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UNHCR Working Group on Resettlement, Berlin: 21-23 February 2018

Each year, the UNHCR, together with governments and NGOs from around the world, meet in Geneva in June for the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR). An important precursor to the June meeting is the Working Group on Resettlement (WGR), which held a winter meeting and workshop on February 21-23, 2018 in two German locations.

Australia was represented by the Department of Home Affairs, as well as NGO representatives from the Settlement Council of Australia, Settlement Services International, Foundation House and the Refugee Community Advocacy Network.

The first day of the WGR saw participants travel to the small town of Friedland, in rural Germany, where a Refugee Reception Centre has operated since the end of WWII. In addition to touring the Friedland Reception Centre and hearing firsthand from current residents, participants were given an important history lesson about Europe’s response to refugees during a tour of the fascinating museum of Friedland’s history.

Participants then departed by train for Berlin where the following two days consisted of a mix of lectures, interactive workshops and panel discussions exploring a plethora of aspects of refugee resettlement.

In Berlin, the participants focused on two working groups (or topics): the pre-existing Working Group on Integration, and a new Working Group on “New Partnerships”. This New Partnership focus explored opportunities for private and community sponsorship, and provided crucial feedback to the UNHCR, of direct relevance to the current international negotiations for a Global Compact on Refugees.

As a representative of the Australian settlement sector, SCoA CEO Nick Tebbey moderated a workshop on language acquisition, and the barriers that prevent new arrivals from easily learning a new language. A variety of speakers took part in the workshop, including researchers, representatives of the German government, and most interestingly, a teacher and student who shared real-life examples of the challenges, and successes, of language acquisition. The workshop identified key practical steps that can help to overcome the possible barriers, including:

  • Ensuring child care is available for participants (an output already enshrined in Australia’s Adult Migrant English Program);
  • Assisting refugees to balance the various demands on their time and responsibilities to government; and
  • The possibility for pre-arrival language training and the challenges that poses.

UNHCR provided an update on the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration and the role of resettlement in them. It is clear that the Global Compacts provide a rare opportunity for the world to agree and implement a range of measures and safeguards to protect and enhance refugee and migrant rights. We will continue to play an active role in relation to both, and importantly, Australia’s response.

The discussion about New Partnerships became the focus of day two of the Berlin meetings. Representatives of the UNHCR pointed to the importance of New Partnerships as a way of ensuring meaningful and sustained integration for refugees, as well as increasing states’ capacity to take greater numbers of humanitarian migrants. It was heartening to learn of the experiences across the globe, from New Zealand to England, and from Canada to Germany, where community and private sponsorship is being used with great results.

As Australia is currently preparing to deliver a new Community Sponsorship program, the learnings from Germany are of great relevance. Some of the key takeaways included:

  • Private and community sponsorship models must operate with additionality to resettlement programs wherever possible;
  • Fostering the support of the greater community is crucial to ensuring success;
  • Focusing on the strengths that humanitarian migrants bring to their new homes, rather than only addressing perceived needs, has the greatest prospect for success;

Another brilliant workshop on day 2 discussed methods for measuring the success of these types of programs, from both an individual outputs perspective and, importantly, broader community and social cohesion aspects. As a useful insight, representatives of Canada shared the recently released evaluation of their Syrian Refugee Initiative, which makes for compelling reading.

Following the conclusion of the WGR meetings, the various NGO representatives got together for a brainstorming session to inform the NGO input into formal ATCR process. We workshopped a range of topics that were considered to be of crucial importance to the global response to resettlement, including:

  • Sharing best practice and identifying what works well in settlement;
  • Preserving resettlement as a protection tool and not a migration pathway;
  • How to foster public support for refugees and their protection;
  • Key global issues of concern such as the current Rohingya crisis and protracted refugee situations in Northern Africa and the Middle East; and
  • Exploring the building blocks of community and private sponsorship.

At the end of three very busy and interesting days, participants left Berlin with a host of new connections, important lessons, and possible actions for further enhancing national refugee settlement programs in the face of a growing worldwide crisis.

SCoA extends hearty congratulations to Caritas Germany, who co-hosted the event with the German Ministry of the Interior, which two organisations will both go on to co-host ATCR in June.

SCoA CEO Nick Tebbey moderated a session on language acquisition for resettled refugees

A children’s playground in the snow at Friedland Refugee Reception Centre

The colourful youth centre at Friedland Refugee Reception Centre

UNHCR Representative presenting an update on the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration